Plea for steady funding

December 15, 2006

UUK tells Chancellor not to cut cash if he wants results, Claire Sanders reports.

Vice-chancellors have warned Chancellor Gordon Brown not to rock the boat if he wants universities to keep on delivering on his economic objectives, as lobbying intensifies in advance of next year's Comprehensive Spending Review.

In a briefing note for the Treasury published this week, Universities UK stresses how successful universities have been in delivering the Government's goals. But the vice-chancellors' group focuses its energies on preventing cuts and maintaining a steady state ahead of what has been trailed as a tight spending round - with extra cash likely to go to schools and colleges.

Gone are the demands for significant injections of cash that dominated previous submissions. Instead, top of vice-chancellors' shopping list is the maintenance of the unit of public funding for teaching and a plea for future expansion of student numbers to be fully funded.

For many academics, the best they can hope for from the next CSR, which will run from 2008-09 to 2010-11, is steady-state budgets. The omens are not good for the 2009 pay review, with any extra money already spoken for.

Addressing MPs last week, Sir Graeme Davies, vice-chancellor of London University and chair of the funding and governance policy committee at UUK, said: "The sector's finances are still in a fragile state and any reduction in public income could put us back into an unsustainable situation."

He said that universities still faced a funding gap despite the injection of additional funds in recent years.

"The biggest improvement has been in research infrastructure, reflecting where most of the funds have been allocated," he said. "The challenge now is to address the backlog in teaching."

He said that universities faced particular cost pressures, notably increased pension costs and "huge increases in energy costs".

Universities UK will submit a detailed submission to the Treasury next month. But MPs were told that universities needed to maintain fully funded growth in student numbers. "We also need to support the costs of part-time teaching, to support teacher education and to continue to widen participation and improve student retention," the briefing says. UUK estimates that it needs an extra £250 million a year to deliver on these commitments.

UUK is also calling for continued growth in research funding.

The Russell Group is understood to be emphasising the need to maintain at least the present commitments to the full economic costing of research - an initiative brought in to ensure that research funders pay a fairer share of overhead costs.

Campaigning for Mainstream Universities has written to Bill Rammell, the Higher Education Minister, stressing that part-time students need more financial support. "There is the very real prospect that part-time provision will become increasingly uneconomic for both universities and students," it says.

The 1994 Group is lobbying for a commitment that fees will represent additional income for universities for at least one more parliament and a real-terms increase in the unit of funding for teaching.

claire.sanders@thes.co.uk

SECTOR'S SUCCESSES

  • 31 per cent of the labour force had a higher education qualification in 2005, an increase of one third in ten years
  • International student numbers have risen by 43 per cent since 2001-04 to 14 per cent of the total
  • UK universities produce 9 per cent of the world's scientific papers, accounting for 12 per cent of the world's citations, and are highly placed in world research rankings
  • Since 2001, the income raised from consultancies increased by 70 per cent, the number of patents doubled and the number of licences granted increased fourfold

Source: UUK

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